UK energy transition advocates slammed government “chaos” and warned of further investment risk as reports emerged of a major u-turn on green policies by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The alarm bells sounded after the BBC reported that Sunak will this week row back on net zero commitments including timescales for replacement of domestic gas boilers and banning new petrol and diesel cars.
Critics said such a move coming soon after the flop of the UK’s latest renewable energy auction, when no offshore wind projects were awarded contract-for-difference power deals, would further damage Britain’s already sagging reputation among investors.
“If these rumours are true, the sheer number of u-turns would speak of chaos at the heart of government,” said Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) think-tank.
“All of this would leave us more dependent on foreign oil and gas, less energy independent and with investors spooked, putting jobs in the industries of the future in jeopardy. Only recently the government blundered the offshore wind auction, leaving bill payers to pay an extra £1bn ($1.2bn) on expensive gas power stations instead.”
Any moves of the type reported would also meet stiff opposition within Sunak’s own governing Conservative Party.
Chris Skidmore, a prominent Conservative MP who wrote a report for the government on how to meet Britain’s legally-binding net zero goals, said “if we want to secure future economic growth, jobs and inward investment, we need clarity, certainty, consistency, and continuity of policy from government”.
The BBC reported that Sunak will insist that Britain is still committed to hitting net zero.
But any backtrack would confirm the worst fears of those who suspected that the Prime Minister, who faces a general election next year, would be tempted by the prospect of political advantage when his party in July unexpectedly won a local by-election by campaigning against green policies in London.
Sunak has also backed new oil & gas licensing in the North Sea, while a promised move to reverse an effective ban on new onshore wind in England was slammed for having little effect in practice.
Even before the latest reports, the UK had faced warnings from major international players over its direction of travel on green policy.
Andrew Forrest – the Australian mining tycoon whose companies such as Fortescue Future Industries are now huge global investors in renewables, energy storage and green hydrogen projects – said Britain or other countries that backtrack on net zero will see a drain of investment to those with robust green policies.